Thursday, April 13, 2006

And the loser is...

...Rep. Mark Souder (R-IN), who wrote the HEA Aid Elimination Provision - the law that strips financial aid from college students with drug convictions.

As a result of a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit Students for Sensible Drug Policy (SSDP) filed against the U.S. Department of Education, the government released this week the state-by-state breakdown of the nearly 200,000 students who have been denied aid under the penalty.

The state with the highest percentage of college applicants being denied aid for drug convictions? You guessed it: Souder's home state of Indiana.

Ryan Grim has a piece on Slate today.
If this law betters the lives of young people—Souder calls it a way to reduce youth drug use by reducing demand—then no state has done better than Souder's own Indiana. As of August 2005, nearly 9,000 Indianan students—one in 200—have been denied aid since the law passed. That's the highest proportion of students affected in any state by a wide margin. (Click here to see where your state ranks.) A week ago, when the Department of Education released preliminary data, I started calling Martin Green, Souder's spokesman, for a comment on Indiana's stellar showing. He has not returned my calls.

There's another funny thing about the Department of Education's numbers: They don't show the number of college applicants punished for drug convictions. They show the number punished for owning up to drug convictions. On their financial-aid applications, students are asked to check a box if they've been convicted of selling or possessing drugs. But the department has no way to verify students' answers. Officials can cross-check the answers with federal arrest records, but they make up a very small percentage of all drug convictions.

So far, about 190,000 students across the country (and abroad) have told the truth and been denied financial aid. It's impossible to know how many lied and headed off to college, federal aid in hand. Nearly 300,000 student-aid applicants, however, simply ignored the question in 2000-2001, the first school year in which it was asked. After internal debate, the Clinton administration decided to give all these students a pass. (A fitting verdict, perhaps, given Clinton's own equivocal response to questions about drug use.)

The Bush administration reversed this "ask, but don't tell" policy. Beginning in 2001, applicants who have refused to say whether they've been convicted of a drug crime are presumed guilty and bounced from the aid pool. That year, the number of students denied aid quintupled.

When Souder's amendment came up for reconsideration last year, its opponents couldn't muster the votes to get rid of it. They settled for a change that denies federal aid only to students caught getting high while in college. That bill was signed by President Bush as part of the Deficit Reduction Act of 2005. But its future is hazy; it's tied up in court because the House and Senate versions differed slightly. Whatever its fate, the government still won't be able to verify much about a student's drug record. Which means they'll catch fibbing students only if they've had the unusual misfortune of being convicted of a federal crime. A word to the wise, and the not-so-wise: Just Check No.

SSDP will be releasing a report detailing the state-by-state numbers on Monday. Get in touch with us if you'd like to help us get press on this issue in your state.

11 comments:

kaptinemo said...

Bravo! And I'm not surprised at all that Hoosiers would have to suffer the most from Souder's Law; after all, they keep re-electing him to office.

Is this another (twisted) case of 'leading by example'?

Joyce's cutie said...

The Slate piece is one of the most cogent and comprehensive treatments of the issue that I've read. Great work on pitching this to them!

One gripe: I hate the new term "HEA Aid Elimination Provision" (HEAAEP?) I know it was referred to that way in the lawsuit, but everyone knows it as the HEA Drug Provision, and it's much easier to understand that way.

Anonymous said...

Wasn't the author of that Slate piece a paid lobbiest for one of those pro-legalization groups?

Talk about unethical journalism! Fair and Balanced reporting, I'm sure.

Joyce's cutie said...

Steven Steiner, welcome back to the DGD! Steven, though your post was "anonymous", your calling card spelling mistake ("lobbiest") never fails to authenticate the authorship of your messages. :-)

Seriously though Steven, it's great to have different points of view here. I think we could benefit even more, however, if you would address specific statements with which you disagree rather than simply making ad hominem attacks against the authors. I'm willing to offer you the same courtesy.

kaptinemo said...

And no "parent's groups" would take such 'conflict of interest money' from pharmaceutical corporations to prevent any meaningful drug law reform that might challenge their sponsor's mercantile interests, would they?

Noooo, they're too upstanding and forthright for that! They're far too ethical to stoop so low, right? After all, the children look up to them to provide examples of civic virtue! What would those children think, if they learned their parents were engaged in such behavior? My, I believe that those children could be excused for thinking of them as being hypocrites.

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800 pound gorilla said...

Maybe I missed something; let me know. We have a Hatch Act that prohibits federal agencies from engaging in political activities. That means that they aren't allowed to influence the actual policy. Now the DEA insists that they can't release the information because it would lead to legalization. Now, in my mind at least, legalization is a change in policy. If their argument is taken at face value shouldn't the DEA be prosecuted under the Hatch Act because they are supporting the current policy against political activists who want to change that policy? Needless to say the Hatch Act is supposed to prohibit this kind of blatant political activity by a governmental agency. Why hasn't anyone prosecuted the DEA for its delay in giving out this information and use their own public statements as evidence of their blatant violation of the Hatch Act?
As a taxpayer, I am incensed at how police organizations and schools organize political rallies to preach the gospel about the dangers of meth. My tax dollars pay their salaries and they organize political rallies to keep their gravy train at taxpayer expense? Is the Hatch Act a sham? How can this type of activity not be considered political?

Micah Daigle said...

800 lb gorilla, here's some clarification:

1) It was the DoE (Department of Education), not the DEA that initially denied SSDP's request that they waive the FOIA fee. (They didn't deny our request, they denied the fee-waiver).

2) Non-profits are allowed fee-waivers if the info is in the public interest, and will not benefit the organization financially. Their reasoning for denying the fee-waiver was that since this info could lead to the "legalization" of drugs, that we might benefit financially.

Of course, this is a bogus claim, which is why they backed down in the face of a lawsuit.

kaptinemo said...

800lb, there's another reason for the government's brazeness about violating the Hatch Act.

In short, the GAO has granted license to the ONDCP to lie.

The entire DrugWar is based upon a twisting of the original meaning of the Commerce Clause of the Constitution. If the root of the tree is bent, then we can expect nothing but further twists to trunk and branches, and that is what has happened to the Hatch Act regarding governmental entities propagandizing the public while using public resources to do so.

Congressman Dr. Ron Paul has challenged the GAO on this, and received this reply.

It becomes obvious after a little thought that with all three branches of the government under Republican control, such a reply is to be expected; note that the original complaint - that of telling lies about cannabis - is not disputed.

The excuse given is the most threadbare imaginable; that the ONDCP was not lobbying against cannabis law reform; it was disseminating information commensurate with its' 'prescribed duties'. It can only do this because it's stated charter says up front it is working against normalization of cannabis laws (From the second link: ONDCP has statutory responsibilities for developing the national drug control policy, coordinating and overseeing its implementation and, most significantly, for taking “such actions as necessary to oppose any attempt to legalize the use of [certain controlled substances]” including marijuana).

So, because it has lying about cannabis and propagandizing against cannabis normalization laws written into its' charter, even when it's lying like a dog, it's not...lying. Alice would feel oddly nostalgic for such bald-faced sophistry.

Scarlett Swerdlow said...

Great report. Bet you were laughing when you realized Indiana proved the most effected by Souder's law.

One question, though. Does the report compare the total number of denied applicants since 2000 to total number of FAFSA applications since 2000? I assume so, but didn't catch it in the report.

Again, good job!

Greg said...

I'd like to see SSDP replace the loans and scholarship money denied to students over drug offenses under the HEAAEP.

In ten years, when these students are successful young adults, you would have a powerful message: drugs didn't ruin our lives.

With a program like that, you might finally convince people that drugs, particularly marijuana, aren't the scourge they're often made out to be. Sure, the drug won't cause addiction, but most people see marijuana users as like The Onion's famous columnist, Jim Anchower. And that kind of person is not seen as a wise investment for educational loans.